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Biological Farmer Friends help keep lower Yahara watershed clean

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The Biological Farmer Friends are part of a larger push from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture to bring farmers within the same watershed together.

Within Wisconsin, there are nearly 65,000 farms according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture's website. Those farms accounting for just over 14 million acres of farmland too. The farmers and their farmlands bring in almost $105 billion dollars annually but when farmers are faced with weather issues, new techniques, stresses and/or anxiety along with new technology... who helps them?

Nearly 10 years ago, the Department of Agriculture began a program in which farmers from within the same watershed come together led by a local farmer. The goal of this project is to bring farmers together, in a space, where they can discuss ways to improve farming, sustainability, weather concerns, etc. They're able to do this through a grant program as well called Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grants.

"We want our farmers to be thriving, we want them to be successful, we want them to be profitable," says Marie Raboin, owner of Brix Cider in Mount Horeb and is a Conservation Specialist with the Dane County Land and Water Resources Department. Raboin is also a partner with the Clean Lakes Alliance.

In total, there are roughly 30 of these groups across Wisconsin including the handful of farmers outside the Stoughton area.

"When you're all working in the same area, you tend to have the similar soils. You're going to have similar weather each year so you can commiserate, cause farmers love to commiserate over the weather whether it's good or bad. You know, if you get a dry or wet year, you can collaborate on ways," says Raboin.

Farmers are also faced with another stress - combating climate change and being as environmentally friendly as possible.

"We also are now depending on them to provide all these ecosystem services whether it's infiltration to avoid floods like back in 2018. Or ecosystem services like carbon sequestration," explains Raboin.

Carbon sequestration is the removal of carbon from the atmosphere through natural or artificial practices. That carbon is then "stored" or held in either plants or "put back" into the soil.

A task that some farmers may not know how to implement but others, just down the road might. In addition to trying to or wanting to help the environment, farmers also have to be able to make a living as well. So if a neighboring farmer has made changes which allows them to do both, they can help others looking to make the change too.

"I've watched several farms completely transform from what I would say is a typical, very conventional system to systems that are completely unrecognizable by other farmers. And they're doing it in a way that makes sense... both sense and c-e-n-t-s cents," says Raboin.

You can see all the different producer-led watershed groups across Wisconsin and what their environmental goal is here.